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North Carolina guard Leslie McDonald expected to return Saturday against Virginia Tech

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With North Carolina likely being without the services of P.J. Hairston, who has yet to practice since suffering a concussion during Tuesday’s win at Boston College, when they take on Virginia Tech Saturday the Tar Heels were in need of a personnel boost.

And that’s what they’ve received, as the school announced via the basketball program’s Twitter account that junior guard Leslie McDonald was expected to return to the court on Saturday.

McDonald hasn’t played since North Carolina’s ACC opener at Virginia on January 6, playing 15 minutes and failing to score. McDonald would then suffer a knee injury that ruled him out for the following three games before being suspended for the next three games due to his “performance as a student-athlete.”

With his knee healed and academic suspension served, McDonald will return to the court with North Carolina suddenly in need of his perimeter shooting with Hairston still dealing with the concussion he suffered at BC.

Averaging 8.4 points per game, McDonald is shooting 43% from beyond the arc on the season with his best performances coming in wins over Mississippi State (21 points in 19 minutes) and UAB (24 points in 26 minutes).

Hairston’s injury opens up some minutes for McDonald to step in and contribute, and with Hairston averaging 16.0 points per game in North Carolina’s last three games the Tar Heels will need McDonald to hit the ground running offensively.

North Carolina has won five of their last six games (with McDonald missing all six), so even with Hairston’s injury the Tar Heels have some positive momentum on which to build. The hope is that McDonald’s return will keep Roy Williams’ team moving in the right direction.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

Stanford loses key veteran guard to stress fracture

Marcus Allen
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Stanford guard Marcus Allen will be out indefinitely after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, the school announced on Monday evening.

“We want to make sure Marcus is fully healthy before returning to the court,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a statement. “Marcus played at a high level during our summer exhibition competition in Italy, where he was one of our leading scorers. We will certainly miss him as we continue to prepare for the season, but we are fortunate that this happened now and he will be back before he knows it.”

The loss of Allen is a potentially brutal blow in an already-thin back court. The 6-foot-3 Allen started 23 games as a sophomore last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 boards. But he averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 boards as the Cardinal made a run to the NIT championship and looked poised to be able to replace the departed Chasson Randle’s production this year.

What’s worse is that without Allen, Stanford does not return a single player in their back court that averaged more than 11.5 minutes. Sophomore Robert Cartwright looks poised to step into the starting point guard role, but neither Dorian Pickens nor Christian Sanders looked like they were ready for that kind of role in the Pac-12 last season. Dawkins does return Malcolm Allen, Marcus’ twin brother, who sat out last season with a broken wrist.

The good news is that Stanford’s front court is strong enough to carry the Cardinal until Marcus is healthy. Rosco Allen, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey will be able to hold their own against any front line in the Pac-12, while Grant Verhoeven and freshman Josh Sharma will provide adequate depth.

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.